Among the many spectacular specimens of ancient Indian art are the rock-cut structures, specially those made by cutting out solid monolithic rocks. The most awe-inspiring among these undoubtedly remains the Kailash temple of Ellora where an entire mountain has been scooped-out (not carved-in as most such structures are)~ a feat so seemingly impossible that many feel it was the work of some advanced alien civilisation! Most of these structures are scattered in the western and southern parts of our country, so i was pleasantly surprised by the chance discovery that a unique structure like this also exists in the Lower-Himalayan region of our home state. Apparently only four among these are monolithic ones i.e. carved out of a single rock face…The Heritage sites of Mamallapuram and Ellora, Dharmanathan complex in Rajasthan and Masrur in Himachal. Thus it was that on a visit to Himachal Pradesh last year, we landed up visiting the Masrur rock-cut temple complex.
Located on a hill and about an hour and a half’s drive away from Kangra city, the complex is a protected monument under the aegis of the ASI (was surprised though that it hasn’t yet been designated a UNESCO Heritage sight). The state of maintenance (or lack thereof!) notwithstanding, the ruins offer a grand sight standing tall in those serene and remote ranges. Originally they say there were 19 Nagara-style (also known as the Indo-Aryan style) intricately carved temples hewn out of a single sandstone ridge. The 1905 Kangra earthquake destroyed 4 of them completely and defaced many of the others. The central east-facing temple was supposed to be flanked by seven smaller shrines on either side. We could see only three on either side clearly while some excavation and restoration work was going on on the others. The knocked off remains of pillars, sculptures etc can still be seen lying around arranged in some sort of display by the ASI. However the original magnificence remains and the huge portion of the central spire that has slid down and rests on the roof only adds to the awesomeness of the place.
What i found even more interesting was that there is no definitive study about when these were built, by whom and why. They were discovered only in 1875, perhaps because of their isolated location in the mountains. Historians generally date them to the 7th or 8th Century. One opinion says that they were built by the Katoch kings of Jalandhar, while another set ascribes them to the reigns of Lalitaditya and Yashovarman, who ruled in the eighth century. Another study says the architectural and structural fragments found on the hill below tell the story of a township that once existed here. The theory being that it was probably a capital in transit for the rulers of Jalandhar, one of whom may have ordered the construction. Local legend of course says they were built by the Pandavas (who else?!) during the period of their 14 year exile. For fear of being recognised during their 1 year incognito period, they simply abandoned these temples and went away (Incidentally the old name of Kangra was Bhimnagar as they say it was founded by one of the Pandava brothers~ Bhim; and Kangra Fort is recorded in the battle descriptions of Alexander the great, so who knows…legends may hold some truth too!!)
Studies also say that the original temple was dedicated to Shiva and later other deities were placed. The central shrine locally is referred to as “Thakurdwara” and has stone images of Ram, Sita and Lakshman installed in the sanctum. Just in front of the complex is a large water reservoir, around 50 metres in length and also made of sandstone. The reflection of the monument in those shimmering waters makes for the best photographic opportunities.
In some ways the sparse crowds (it still hasn’t become part of the standard tourist-circuit), those monuments in that serene location and an amazing view of those magnificent Dhauladhar peaks leaves you a little overwhelmed…like you have time-travelled back to another era~~